Spontaneous movement tempo can be influenced by combining action observation and somatosensory stimulation

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Spontaneous movement tempo (SMT) was a popular field of study of the Gestalt psychologists It can be determined from subjects freely tapping out a rhythm with their finger, and it has been found to average about 2 Hz. A previous study showed that SMT changed after the observation of rhythmical movements performed at frequency different from the SMT. This effect was long-lasting only when movement execution immediately followed action observation (AO). We recently demonstrated that only when AO was combined with peripheral nerve stimulation (AO-PNS) was it possible to induce plastic changes in the excitability of the motor cortex, whereas AO and PNS alone did not evoke any changes. Here we investigated whether the observation of rhythmical actions at a frequency higher than the SMT combined with PNS induced lasting changes in SMT even in absence of immediate movement execution. Forty-eight participants were assigned to four groups. In AO-PNS group they observed a video showing a right hand performing a finger opposition movement sequence at 3 Hz and contemporarily received an electrical stimulation at the median nerve; in AO group and PNS group participants either observed the same video or received the same electrical stimulation of the AO-PNS group, respectively; in LANDSCAPE group subjects observed a neutral video. Participants performed a finger opposition movement sequence at spontaneous movement rate before and 30 min after the conditioning protocols. Results showed that SMT significantly changed only after AO-PNS. This result suggested that the AO-PNS protocol was able to induce lasting changes in SMT due to neuroplasticity mechanisms, indicating possible application of AO-PNS in rehabilitative treatments.




Bisio, A., Avanzino, L., Lagravinese, G., Biggio, M., Ruggeri, P., & Bove, M. (2015). Spontaneous movement tempo can be influenced by combining action observation and somatosensory stimulation. Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience, 9(AUGUST). https://doi.org/10.3389/fnbeh.2015.00228

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